Comic relief is a literary device used in a serious, dramatic work to relieve tension with something funny. Many times, writers create a character specifically for comic relief. Disney does this a LOT: Olaf from Frozen; the horse and chameleon from Tangled; Zazu, Timon, and Pumba from Lion King, etc.
Comic relief characters can be a great way to lighten the mood and keep a story from being too dark and depressing all the freaking time, which is one of the reasons why Man of Steel was a terrible movie. It had no comic relief (its few attempts at humor were cliche and stupid and not funny, but that's besides the point).
What's important to consider when creating a comic relief character is that they need to bring something important to the actual plot other than comic relief. They have to make an impact at least once during the story. Don't have a character there solely for comic relief, otherwise the humor will usually feel forced and contrived.
In The Lion King, Timon and Pumba progress the plot by finding Simba, nursing him back to health, and showing him another way to live. Olaf from Frozen is there to lead Anna and Kristoff to Elsa's castle and later reveals that *spoiler* is in love with Anna.
Sometimes the comic relief character doesn't play a huge role in the plot (I'd say Olaf didn't do anything game-changing, or maybe he did--it's been a while since I've seen the movie), and it works. However, this is hard to pull off and the comic relief character must be legitimately funny (like Olaf!).
My advise to beginner writers is not to have a character solely for comic relief. Give small bits of humor to ALL the characters. The serious characters are phenomenal for being at the butt of jokes. If you have a goofy character in the room with a serious one, it's a great opportunity to take a few stabs at the serious character. This is Sam joking around with Michael from Burn Notice, Damon making fun of Stefan's "hero hair" in The Vampire Diaries, and Rafiki annoying Simba and Simba annoying Zazu in The Lion King.
Actually, let's look at The Lion King. It doesn't have one comic relief character. A lot of the characters provide humor: Rafiki, Zazu, Timon, Pumba, and the Hyenas. All these characters are also integral to the plot, so it doesn't seem like we're throwing in humor for the sake of humor. They're subtly and inherently funny. It's just their personalities.
Look at The Avengers. All the main characters were involved in something humorous at some point, which also increased their overall likability (no one likes a humorless scrooge!) There wasn't a single character solely devoted to comic relief. Everyone had their funny moments.
And finally, remember that the best plot devices are the ones you don't readily notice. In movies like Thor: the Dark World and Man of Steel, it was painfully obvious when the writers tried to insert humor into the scene, which stopped it from being funny.
In summary, don't have a character in your story solely to provide comic relief. Give them something vital to do or accomplish, whether they do it purposely or accidentally. It makes them seem more a part of the story rather than a plot device.
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